Insider Threat: Top Scientist Pleads Guilty to Espionage

Monday, September 12, 2011

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Stewart David Nozette, a scientist who once worked for the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the White House’s National Space Council, pleaded guilty to attempted espionage for providing classified information to a person he believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer.

The guilty plea, which took place this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was announced by Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Nozette, 54, of Chevy Chase, Md., pleaded guilty to one count of attempted espionage. Senior Judge Paul L. Friedman, who presided at the plea hearing, scheduled a status hearing for Nov. 15, 2011. No sentencing date was set. The plea agreement, which is subject to the judge’s approval, calls for an agreed-upon prison term of 13 years.

Nozette has been in custody since his arrest on Oct. 19, 2009. FBI agents arrested him following an undercover operation in which he provided classified materials on three occasions, including one occasion that forms the basis for today’s guilty plea. He was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury. The indictment does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense under U.S. laws in this case.

“Stewart Nozette betrayed America’s trust by attempting to sell some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets for profit. Today, he is being held accountable for his actions. As this case demonstrates, we remain vigilant in protecting America’s secrets and in bringing to justice those who compromise them,” said Assistant Attorney General Monaco.

“Stewart Nozette was once a trusted scientist who maintained high-level government security clearances and was frequently granted access to classified information relating to our national defense. Today he is a disgraced criminal who was caught red-handed attempting to trade American secrets for personal profit. He will now have the next 13 years behind bars to contemplate his betrayal,” said U.S. Attorney Machen.

“The FBI and its partners deserve tremendous credit for their outstanding work on this case. This investigation and prosecution demonstrate our commitment to identifying and punishing those who would put our national security at risk.”

“Preventing the loss or compromise of high-technology and vital national security information is a top priority of the FBI,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin.

“This case is a prime example of what happens when a person decides to sell our nation’s most valuable secrets for individual gain.”

Nozette received a Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983. He has worked in various capacities on behalf of the U.S. government in the development of state-of-the-art programs in defense and space.

For example, Nozette worked at the White House on the National Space Council, Executive Office of the President, from approximately 1989 through 1990. He also worked as a physicist for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from approximately 1990 to 1999, where he designed highly advanced technology.

Nozette was also the president, treasurer and director of the Alliance for Competitive Technology (ACT), a non-profit organization that he organized in March 1990. Between January 2000 and February 2006, Nozette, through his company, ACT, entered into agreements with several government agencies to develop highly advanced technology.

Nozette performed some of this research and development at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Va., and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

On Sept. 16, 2009, Nozette left a manila envelope in the “dead drop” facility in the District of Columbia. One of the “answers” provided by the defendant contained information classified as SECRET/SCI which related to the national defense, in that it directly concerned classified aspects and mission capabilities of a prototype overhead collection system and which disclosure would negate the ability to support military and intelligence operations.

In addition to disclosing SECRET/SCI information, Nozette offered to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Nozette left a manila envelope in the “dead drop” facility in the District of Columbia. The FBI also left a cash payment of $9,000 in the “dead drop” facility. Later that day, the FBI agents retrieved the sealed manila envelope left by the defendant.

Inside the envelope, FBI agents discovered the encrypted thumb drive that was provided to Nozette on Sept. 17, 2009, which included another set of “answers” from the defendant. The “answers” contained information classified as TOP SECRET/SCI and other information classified as SECRET/SCI. This classified information related to the national defense, in that it directly concerned satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy. (This information is what formed the basis for the charge in today’s guilty plea.)

On Oct. 5, 2009, Nozette left a manila envelope in the “dead drop” facility in the District of Columbia. Later that day, the FBI agents retrieved the sealed manila envelope left by the defendant.

Inside the envelope, FBI agents discovered the encrypted thumb drive that was provided to Nozette on Oct. 1, 2009, which included another set of “answers” from the defendant. The “answers” contained information classified as TOP SECRET/SAR. This classified information related to the national defense, in that it directly concerned capabilities of a U.S. military weapon system research and development effort.

Source:  http://www.fbi.gov/washingtondc/press-releases/2011/noted-scientist-pleads-guilty-to-attempted-espionage

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